An Afternoon Chat With Ivan Smirnov | Press | Privet Earth
An Afternoon Chat With Ivan Smirnov

2011

I recently found myself lucky enough to be talking on the phone with a young Russian man who has released an independent CD, Privet Earth, which made the Gods of Rock smile a big toothy grin. His name is Ivan Smirnov and his job is to save over the top kick ass Rock music or at the very least, make you thank the sweet lord above you aren’t deaf.
 
Doug Morrissey- What was it like growing up in Russia? 
 
Ivan Smirnov- I was born in St. Petersburg and then moved to the small town called Vologda. What can I say? I’m just a small town boy!
 
DM- I see that you play guitar and piano. Which did you pick up first?
 
IS- Actually it was the drums first. I used to drum on tin cans when I was really small. My parents took me for piano lessons when I was around 7. It was funny because my parents and the teacher were standing around and the teacher asked me what my favorite instrument was and I said the drums. They started laughing but I didn’t really understand what they were laughing at. I used to play the piano like drums. I was all over the place and just killing my parents with all the noise. That was why they took me for lessons! I studied classical piano for 5 years. 
 
My first guitar was my fathers. On my 18th birthday I got a red Trembita guitar. They were made in the Czech Republic. It has a great low tone. I loved that guitar! But I’ve never taken any guitar lessons. 
 
DM-Did your parents play professionally?
 
IS- My father played for fun in college but he wasn’t a professional musician. He was a long jumper and very athletic. But musically he was a big fan of The Beatles, Queen, Elton John, Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong. I discovered his album collection as a kid.
He was very critical of my playing but now I think it helped me improve. My Mother was very creative and wrote poetry. She encouraged me a lot in my creativity.  She wanted me to learn German as a second language but I chose English because of the music.My grandma and sister also encouraged me a lot.
 
DM- Did you take any vocal lessons?
 
IS- No.
 
DM- When did you find out your vocal range?
 
IS- It was later in my teens. When my voice was changing it was soooooo painful. I had to go to the doctor so they could put a cream or oil on my vocal chords to try and ease the irritation. I actually almost broke my voice when I was sixteen.
 
I kept listening to American and British rock music and kept singing along.  I had a mentor in Russia, a local composer and music engineer. His name is Vladimir Sokolov and he helped guide my musical talent and helped me save my voice. He saw that I could hear the music in my head and he helped me find the tools to get the music out of my head. 
 
DM- Who did you look up to as a kid? Any heroes?
 
IS- John Lennon was my teenage days hero. He was a huge influence on me. When I was a teen in Russia I bought the round glasses like John had. They had peace sign holograms on the lenses. People in Vologda were staring at me like “something is wrong with this kid”, because I had the long hair and those glasses…some kind of a neo-hippie.
 
As far as vocalists though…Freddie Mercury, Ian Gillian of Deep Purple, Robert Plant, Bono etc. Kurt Cobain, because I love the honesty in his lyrics.
 
I love David Bowie as a personality. He is almost superhuman. I got into his music when I first came to America.  I also love the old Russian singer, Shalyapin, pure genius! 
 
DM- What's the Russian music scene like?
 
IS- It’s very complex. What’s on the radio is pop music which is sometimes too commercial.   If you came to Russia and just listened to the radio you might come to the wrong conclusion. A lot of great music doesn’t make it through. However, we still cherish classical music from the end of the 19th and early 20th century. Classical and folk music are truly great!  There is a lot of talent over there but it’s not being heard on the radio. I’m also fond of Russian rock wave of the late 80’s and I hope that rock music in Russia will see better days!
 
DM- How did you get to LA?
 
IS- I was very frustrated that I didn’t have any opportunities in Russia, that I was not understood. I was writing in English and people used to tell me that my music wouldn’t go anywhere because I was writing in English. I ended up going to a University to be a teacher of Russian and foreign literature, German language and English. I realized that I didn’t want to be a teacher, even though I loved literature.  The music was over weighing me. I was trying to find a way out and that’s when I found that little piece of hope that I could hold on to. It was an ad that was hanging on the wall of the University. They were accepting submissions from students to work in the USA at these work camps as part of a working visa program. I went to Moscow and passed the audition. Then there was a job fair and I told them I would clean all their toilets and they said they really wanted cleaners. They offered me a job in Iowa at a camp called Hantesa and I quickly accepted.
 
DM- What was that like?
 
IS- It was really a lot of fun. I’d say one of the best times of my life. I was sleeping in a cabin in the woods with no electricity and you could actually hear the deer snoring at night. The first time I heard it I didn’t know what it was but then I realized it was this deer! I was relieved.
 
The camp was a ton of fun though. I won a music contest while I was there. It was kind of like Hantesa Idol and I did one of my songs and won this nice little star made out to Mr. Ivan. I had a great time there and made some good friends.
 
DM- How did you get from there to Los Angeles?
 
IS- I took the money I made at the camp and bought a Greyhound ticket to LA. It was awful travelling for 2 days with a ton of transfers and a lot of madness. It was like a culture shock for me. I was just 19 years old from a small town in Russia but I kept pushing forward. I kept telling myself there is no way back.
 
When I finally got there I found a cheap hotel and got a job cleaning toilets which seems to be kind of a reference on my life!  It was on Hollywood Boulevard at the USA hotel. I met a lot of musicians who came to play music too. We were playing gigs together and I never felt alone because we were all supporting each other. After a little bit though, I was living in a friend’s garage for a very cold month of October. After that there was a point when I didn’t have a place to live and was caught up in a bad place with no money. I spent a day sitting in front of a McDonalds with just my guitar and no money to go inside and buy some food. I still shed a tear when I drive by that McDonalds! I’m kidding! I wrote in my journal then, “Today, the 28th of October. I ended up homeless under a sunny Californian sky.” It was a sarcastic way of seeing myself. Felt like I was just a character in a movie at the time. I knew everything was going to be fine. I had to think like that to psych myself up.
 
 
DM- Is Privet Earth your first record?
 
IS- It’s my first full length well produced record in the US.
 
DM- How did you meet Robb Vallier.
(Producer of Jon Bon Jovi and the likes.)?  
 
IS- He was a music engineer on the record. I met him through other guys a while ago and we had worked on other demos before. He liked my stuff and when I finally decided to do a record I called him up and we just clicked with our ideas and influences. We gelled really well as a team. On a strange side note, Robb is from the town I worked in when I arrived in this country, Boone Iowa.
 
DM- How long did it take to complete the album and at what locations was it recorded?
 
IS- It was a perfect pregnancy. It took 9 months. We recorded drums in Phoenix in the Gin Blossoms’ studio. It was an amazing room and space. We worked in Robb’s home studio in Phoenix. The rest of it we recorded about a mile from skid row in Los Angeles. It was dangerous to get there and I didn’t have a car so I had to take a bus through skid row. It was cool because I could see a different side of America, like a different side of the coin. It was an inspiration to me on the album.  There were hundreds of homeless people just lined up on the streets. Some were fighting each other, it was insane. We did some of the album artwork photo shoots with Zach Lipp in skid row.  Everyone had knives when we did it and Zach brought his dog… It turned out great!
 
DM- How was the response to the album in the US?
 
IS- I just started getting it to the media in the US. We actually did the US last for some reason. It’s getting great response as sound bumpers for podcasts and it was mentioned in The Ventura Star by Bill Locey alongside Kate Nash and Band of Horses. 
 
 
 DM- Was there any media response on the album in other countries?
 
IS- They loved the album in Italy. The Netherlands loved it as well. They wrote about it at home in Russia. England wrote about it twice.  The Black Velvet Magazine said I can reach notes that only dogs can hear! (smile), I’m waiting for someone to say dolphins next!


DM- What is your personal favorite tune on the album? Why?
 
IS- Number 5 “The Sunshine Never Cries”. It is very dramatic to me because of many personal memories involved with it. I feel that song a lot. 
 
 
DM- What was it like taking the stage for the first time with this album?
 
IS- It was so exciting I can’t even explain it. 
 
DM- There are some live clips on your website. Is it the first Privet Earth show? 
 
IS- Yes, it was the CD release party at Cap Theater in Sherman oaks, California. We also showed the video for “A Phuken Angel” for the first time. 
 
DM- Where do the lyrical ideas for your songs come from? Does something inspire you to write?
 
IS-  Pain and euphoria…
 
 
DM- Are your lyrics based on personal experience?
 
IS- Yes, they have to be honest; they definitely have to be honest. I’m trying to keep my songs accessible emotionally. For example, I wrote “A Phuken Angel” when I was about to be homeless. It was just a way of rebelling and psyching myself up and getting myself together. All set and ready to go! I’m going to get through this. I’m never to give up!
 
DM- What’s the song “Rebelz” about?
 
IS- It’s about people being their biggest enemy. You are normally your worst enemy and maybe we can fix that, you know. The message is about accepting oneself. Don’t try to be “that” guy! 

DM- Where do your songs start out? Guitar or piano?
 
IS- It’s always different. Music is always in my subconscious. Somewhere inside me there is a little workaholic with a guitar and he is just working non stop! Sometimes I just start playing guitar and it comes from there. Sometimes I sit by the piano and play around and other times I’m walking around and just singing and something comes out of that. It may come in my sleep. You never know…Oh, it’s coming right now! Doug, we have to wrap up! (smile!)
 
DM- Do you ever do any cover songs?
 
IS- I’ve done a melody of The Beatles “Help” that goes into “One” by U2.  Just copying a tune is boring. Why would I want that? I want people to appreciate the effort and the creativity that I use. I want to put my own spin on it.

 
DM- What do you think about the current crop of rock music? Where do you fit in?
 
IS- First of all, I think it’s a very exciting time in music, yet very difficult! It’s a time of transition. Indies are getting more power everyday because of the digital revolution. It’s kind of overwhelming and great because of all the sub genres in rock itself. The major labels used to control a lot more 20 years ago. Indies are now able to form their own labels. I hope that times are going to change for the better for good rock music. Rock is the honesty of our society. “Where do I fit in?” I’m trying to get straight to the point with my music.


DM- What was it like filming your first video for “ A Phuken Angel”?
 
IS- It was great!   We did everything with a green screen with Nate Lipp who we hired to direct our video. It was filmed in Northridge.

DM- What are you listening to now?
 
IS- You talking!... kidding!… When it comes to commercial radio, I listen to 98.7 in Los Angeles. They still play some good stuff. I dig Muse, Phoenix, Temper Trap, Brandie Carlile, Broken Bells… all these new rock guys.


DM- What is your measure of success? A Record deal? Rolling Stone cover? Gene Simmons inviting you to his mansion? 
 
IS- I can answer this in two ways. I guess a jam onstage with Paul McCartney or holding a Grammy, will have felt like I got there. But that is only one side. I feel like I have already achieved success when I was in Iowa and I had a few shows just playing for the kids that were at the camp. It is great when people from different cultures and age groups can connect through my music. That kind of success means a lot.


DM- In the CD booklet you dedicate the album “To My Adorable Loraine”, who is she?
 
IS-   She is my secret woman (smile!). She is my biggest supporter and my biggest critic. She will honestly tell me when I suck and when I’m good. I don’t always listen but you know! So, that’s where the dedication comes from.
 
DM - Where can your album “Privet Earth” be bought? Do you have a website for people to go to and check you out?
 
IS- Sure, they can check out the music, videos and purchase the album on: www.smirnovmusic.com , www.myspace.com/rockjusticemusic , www.cdbaby.com/smirnov or just google: “Smirnov-Privet Earth”


DM- Are you creative in any other ways other than music?
 
IS- Yes, I’m a Russian poet and writer and go under ‘Ivan Nesmirny’ in this field. I’ve been writing poetry all my life. Russian poetry has a different feel to it. Right now I’m working on a novel that’s a lot to do with Los Angeles. I don’t want to give too much away!...  Both my grandfathers were good painters but I don’t think I got any painting talent from them!  However, I think I have the vision of a painter.
 
 
DM: And the last question: Do pigs really fly?
 
I.S: You tell me!... But I think some of them do!!!.

Doug Morrissey

www.muzikreviews.com

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